It’s been a really busy year for singer/songwriter Harper Starling, from banging out smooth pop singles to dance tracks and Christmas tunes, but in her crusher of a new club anthem “Cannot Tell a Lie,” she issues her most physical performance of 2021 thus far. The first thing we notice in “Cannot Tell a Lie” is the firm hand of the percussion beneath the bassline and, moreover, the lack of visibility for instrumentation outside of the bottom-end. This singer might know how to be bohemian when she wants, but that’s certainly not what she’s going for in this performance.
These beats are enormous and almost too big to be called clubby, but at the same time, I love how evenly they’re stacked behind Starling’s lead vocal as if to push her closer to the microphone with each passing moment. She isn’t playing lazy at the forefront of the mix but instead cutting into the bassline with the kind of super melodic presence that is normally afforded to softer pop recordings almost exclusively. This is thoughtful from top to bottom, and possibly heavier in tone than some of the more balladic tracks she’s recorded, depending on your perspective on the narrative here.
Starling’s lead vocal is almost purely built off of swagger, and I think that, if anything, she’s probably holding back a little so that she doesn’t sound blunt or arrogant in a couple of spots in “Cannot Tell a Lie.” She’s rocking the groove really hard, occasionally leading the charge over the percussion with a dynamic singing that is all the more emphasized by the EDM-style framework in this song, and it’s possible that a straight club remix might do better to spotlight how much muscle she’s putting in at the head of the harmony.
This bass is smothering in a few critical moments, but if there’s one singer who can deal with the flood, it’s Harper Starling. She doesn’t just contend with the bottom-end tonal presence in “Cannot Tell a Lie;” she’s running head-first for the grime beneath the beats in this piece, and giving me plenty of reason to think she’s got a whole club-oriented LP on the horizon. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with her exploring more of her sound with a complete dance record, and if this single were headlining the tracklist, I can almost guarantee that it would score some mainstream press.
“Cannot Tell a Lie” has a blushing hook almost certain to intrigue anyone who comes into earshot of its melodies this December, and whether you’re fascinated by pop songcraft or just occasionally like to sample from the genre’s most talented players, Harper Starling is someone that you should be listening to as 2022 comes into focus. Starling’s personality is quite likable, especially in how she constantly does what so few others in her scene are willing to try, and for as experimental a soul as she’s been blessed with she’s never venturing so far off of the beaten path as to leave her audience disillusioned or, worse yet, unable to relate to her story.
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